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Colin McCoy & Christine Reising

©2002 Colin McCoy & Christine Reising

Colin McCoy and Christine Reising's earth-sheltered and passive solar home in sunny southern Oregon stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Colin McCoy & Christine Reising

©2002 Colin McCoy & Christine Reising

Colin McCoy and Christine Reising's earth-sheltered and passive solar home in sunny southern Oregon stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

We opted to build an underground, passive solar house, due to the success of this building method for our previous homes. Surrounding a house with earth tempers the fluctuations of temperature within. The site we chose for the house was the crown of a small, rocky hill with excellent southern exposure. This enabled us to receive the maximum amount of sunshine during the short days of winter. The rocky site would be difficult to excavate, but would provide excellent stability and sturdiness of construction.

A Whisper H900 wind genny with 600 watts of PV meet the family's power needs.

into a living space, we moved. We planned on living in the barn (all 528 square feet of it) for a year. But the permit process took longer than we expected, and we ended up living there for five years.

A Whisper H900 wind genny with 600 watts of PV meet the family's power needs.

Earth-Sheltered Past

With my seven-year-old daughter, I moved from the suburbs of Medford, Oregon, into the mountains of southern Oregon in the fall of 1973. At first we lived in a cabin, and then moved into a house I built, using wood for heating and cooking, and kerosene lamps for light. We were joined by Christine in 1976, and we built our first earth-sheltered, passive solar home in 1980. We used our own sawmill to saw most of the lumber for the new house.

After the excavation produced a home-sized hole, construction began on the concrete walls.

After the excavation produced a home-sized hole, construction began on the concrete walls.

Concrete Forever

We dug the trenches for the footings, but hired out the concrete work. Since the house was to be buried, it needed to be strong. The footings for the walls are 5 feet (1.5 m) wide, and 18 inches (45 cm) deep; the walls are

In 1981, we purchased photovoltaic panels to power electric lights and a refrigerator. We sold this house and property in 1986, and moved to 80 acres near Jacksonville, Oregon. In 1989, we built our second earth-sheltered, passive solar house. (See HP24.) Due to the encroachment of suburbia, we sold this house and acreage in 1994, and moved into a barn on 320 acres near Lake Creek, Oregon. In 1998, we finally were able to grind our way through the Jackson County permit process and started our present home.

Approval & Excavation

Before moving, we had a road built into our homesite. This gave us access to our barn. After making part of it into a living space, we moved. We planned on living in the barn (all 528 square feet of it) for a year. But the permit process took longer than we expected, and we ended up living there for five years.

The county, pleading ignorance about earth-sheltered structures, was hesitant to approve our building plans. I was prepared with research from the University of Minnesota, magazine articles, and The Underground House Book. The county's viewpoint was that this just wasn't Minnesota. County planners tend to favor building methods with which they are familiar, and this would prove to be a lengthy learning experience for all of us. With the help of an engineer, we were finally able to proceed.

We realized right away that hiring all of the excavation work we planned to do would cost a fortune. So we purchased a used John Deere 310 backhoe for US$12,500, and used it to excavate for our house. It also came in handy to dig water lines, drainfield lines, water sumps, ponds, holes for tree planting, drainage ditches along the road, and several other jobs. After four years of use, we sold the backhoe for US$10,500.

The site for the house hole was solid rock. We went as far as we could with the backhoe, but eventually we had to have the rock drilled and blasted, using a total of 150 pounds (68 kg) of ammonium nitrate and 25 sticks of dynamite. The total size of the hole was about 40 feet (12.2 m) wide, 46 feet (14 m) long, and 12 feet (3.6 m) deep at the sides. Most of the excavated rock was pushed to the front of the house area to provide some flat space.

McCoy/Reising Home Construction Costs

Item

Cost (US$)

Concrete

$ 36,247

Lumber

9,965

Septic system

9,414

Misc. hardware, paint, doors

9,051

Structural steel and installation

7,615

Insulation

3,981

Glass

3,475

EPDM rubber for roof

1,815

Window shades

1,419

Fixtures and plumbing

1,368

Stove and chimney, est.

1,200

Electrical wiring, boxes, switches, etc.

Renewable Energy Eco Friendly

Renewable Energy Eco Friendly

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable.

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